The title, “Myall Creek and beyond”, refers to a very specific place, whilst the word “beyond” could be interpreted as meaning to forget or move on. However, in the case of this exhibition, “beyond” means deepening and expanding the conversation.
The artists selected for this exhibition were chosen for their ability to create work which does exactly this: deepen the conversation. All of them, in different ways, interrogate dialogues surrounding Aboriginal massacres, frontier wars and hidden histories, whether it’s through the artists creating work that responds to the place “Myall Creek”, or the artist’s broader response to issues surrounding Australia’s frontier history. Art is a powerful medium to convey stories which transcend the spoken or written word, through its ability to capture the challenging, truthful, spiritual, metaphysical and unspoken essence of a story.
However, this presented a challenge when curating this exhibition, as I was faced with trying to curate work that authentically engages with the story of atrocities such as Myall Creek, but at the same time I was mindful of not triggering trauma in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audiences who share this dark history.
In this exhibition, Judy Watson collaborates again with Greg Hooper to create a site-specific response to the Myall Creek Massacre site itself. Judy and Greg, along with Robert Andrew, Laurie Nilsen and Fiona Foley, undertook an artist residency at the Myall Creek Memorial Site as a part of the development phase of the project. The residency enriches the work, as it is informed by and connected to place. This project enabled Judy to directly interact with the site to create a work that gives the audience access to a different way of seeing the site. Judy does this through the creative documentation of the site and region, which provides both a contemporary and an historical context.
Fiona Foley’s new work takes a different approach to the history of place: she retells the story of the massacre through a large-scale installation work. As per previous works, Fiona’s use of ash denotes the way in which Aboriginal bodies where often disposed of – they were burnt – as was the case in the Myall Creek Massacre victims. Fiona continues to tell the story of the massacre through repetition of objects: ten hoods and twenty-eight pairs of shoes become metaphoric substitutes for the perpetrators and the victims.
Robert Andrew spent time working on site whilst additionally developing relationships with local elders to develop his work, which utilises local languages, ochre and new technology to highlight notions of hidden histories allied with Aboriginal massacres and the white washing of Australian history.
Jenna Green, in her review for Robert Andrew’s exhibition Mutable histories at the Museum of Brisbane in 2017 states: “Andrew’s work seeks to further reveal the truth of this history and the future with which it has left us.”
Laurie Nilsen takes a more confrontational approach through his installation, which articulates the bloodied violence of the massacre, and the treatment of Aboriginal people during these early times as equal to or lesser than an animal. Laurie centres his installation around a rusty meat cleaver once used by butchers for cutting up large bullock and sheep carcasses, to convey the actions and ideals of the perpetrators of the Myall Creek Massacre.
Laurie Nilsen is best known for his work with barbed wire, which he uses to speak about the practice of fencing off traditional Aboriginal lands for pastoral use, which denied Aboriginal people access to their land for hunting and ceremonial purposes. These fences also led to the death of many of our native animals because of entrapment and no longer having access to their waterholes or food sources. Further to this, Aboriginal people were often shot for trespass, should they cross the fence boundaries. Nilsen says: “The barbed wire fence is an important colonising metaphor. That goes without saying – the boundaries and the barriers that have been established in the last couple of hundred years in Australia. They’ve had a profound impact and as I’ve travelled around the country, it’s been a huge learning curve how simple structures like that can wreak so much change in the lifestyle of a people whose boundaries certainly weren’t made in wire.”
Warrabah Weatherall interrogates notions of surveillance and spatial violence in the work he has produced for this exhibition. He creates a carceral container boxing in a bound chess pawn, which denotes historical notions of control of the Indigenous people. Furthermore, Warrabah’s work evokes images of the horrific prison cell footage of death of Cameron Doomagee whilst in custody in Palm Island in 2011. He draws parallels between traditional Aboriginal massacres and ongoing deaths in custody.
Julie Gough’s work HUNTING GROUND (Haunted) Van Diemen’s Land (2016) and GROUNDS OF SURRENDER (2011) really pushes this notion of “beyond”. The inclusion of Julie’s artwork in the show is about expanding the conversation, highlighting the scope of the impact of Aboriginal massacres within Australia. Julie’s work draws attention to the impact of colonial violence on place; in this instance, Tasmania, her homelands.
“I undertook this project to honour and pay my respects to the Wirraraay people who were murdered at Myall Creek on June 10th, 1838 – Lest we forget”. Essay excerpt by Bianca Beetson, Curator, Myall Creek and beyond.